Catwalk dreams now start with message on Instagram
Last week Leya Ljaz, a 17-year-old Pakistani-American who lives in Switzerland, jumped on a train for Paris with her smartphone and a dream of making it onto the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week.
Now here she was clutching her phone and waiting for her turn at a casting for Neith Nyer, the hip and edgy young label of Brazilian creator Francisco Terra.
"Yesterday I did my first casting. There were real models there, it was incredible. I am still waiting for them to get back to me," she said.
But come what may Ljaz is convinced that one day "I am going to end up in fashion", she told AFP.
"I grew up in New York and know fashion week -- my mother loves it," said the student who is sleeping at a friend's place for free having paid her own way to the French capital.
The vast majority of the 30 models who were chosen for the show on Wednesday were like Ljaz recruited from Instagram, fashion's social network of preference.
- Casting on a smartphone -
The rest were represented by agencies. But casting director Leila Hassiba Azizi insisted all were paid the same.
Azizi works for several fashion brands and does most of her "street casting" these days on Instagram.
That is where she came across photos of Leya. She liked what she saw and messaged the young woman, who had only ever modelled once before, in Geneva.
"Instagram is a incredible work tool," she said. "It allows you to see things that you would not have time to look for in the street. It is much more intimate -- you find out much more about who they are. People show you their tastes, and a little bit of their personality," she added.
Azizi said she never asked the girls their measurements because she said she was looking for "a different kind of beauty than agencies do", something more "real".
When someone catches her eye she messages them telling them that she would be interested in working with them and ask them to let her know if they are coming to Paris.
As fashion week approaches the emails begin to flood in, she said.
Like the one from 23-year-old Belgian stylist Maud Van Dievoet. Short-haired and smiley, she lives in London and has already walked the catwalk there.
"Walking down the runway in a show is exciting, it's the adrenaline, and when you love the clothes you are proud that you were chosen, and that you are getting them out there," she said.
- 'We are our own boss' -
Not being with an agency means you are your own boss, she said. With Instagram "we look after ourselves unlike girls which have an agency where everything is organised."
Twenty-year-old Dane Ida Rathje Ravnborg is one of five models at the casting who have come from an agency, having already done the rounds at Milan Fashion Week.
She was not discovered on Instagram. One of her friends sent her photos to an agency which rang her and asked her to sign a contract. Not long afterwards she was off on the fashion week circuit of London, Paris and Milan.
"I never thought I would be a model, but I am delighted," she Ravnborg, who is on a gap year.
"We have just arrived from Milan and the agency is putting us up in an apartment."
She had six castings that day and hopes to get at least one of them, even if up to now only a few of her friends have managed to land themselves slots on the Paris runways.
But the girls' rather unusual and atypical looks do not suit every label, said Azizi, who also works with a model agency. "People who follow the big brands are not yet into this kind of beauty," she said.
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